IRISH couples are falling out of love with marriage as the average age of brides and grooms rises and the number tying the knot falls.
Latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show 19,855 marriages were registered in 2011 – its lowest level for 13 years.
But as the number of marriages fell, so too did the number of divorces, with 2,819 divorces granted by the courts in 2011, down almost 10pc from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, 2011 was the first year that same-sex couples were able to obtain legal recognition for their relationships and 536 civil partnerships were celebrated. Of these, 335 were male unions and 201 were female unions.
The figures show that couples are leaving it later in life to say "I do", with the average age of grooms in 2011 now 34.6 years – six months older on average than in 2010. Brides had an average age of 32 years and five months, five months older than in 2010.
Those tying the knot with a civil partnership were, on average, around a decade older than heterosexual couples, with the average age of male partners standing at 44.7 years and female partners 43.8 years.
According to the CSO, there was a marriage rate of 4.3pc per 1,000 of the population in 2011, compared with 4.5pc a year earlier. It said the 2011 marriage rate was the lowest in the State since 1998.
Catholic marriage ceremonies continue to account for the vast majority of ceremonies, with two-thirds of the 19,855 weddings taking place in the Catholic Church. Civil marriages accounted for 29pc, followed by Church of Ireland ceremonies at 2pc. The remaining 2pc was made up of Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish and other ceremonies
Some 88pc of marriages in 2011 were first-time marriages for both the bride and the groom. There were 2,272 marriages involving at least one divorced person, including 447 marriages where both parties were divorced. Civil ceremonies accounted for 1,855 of these marriages, 234 were Catholic, and the remaining 183 were other religious ceremonies.
Of the 1,072 individuals who tied the knot in civil partnerships, 95pc were previously single, 4pc were divorcees and the remainder were widowed.
The most popular month in which to wed was July when 14pc of marriages took place. January continued to be the least popular, with just 3pc of couples opting for the winter month. Friday and Saturday were the most popular days to get married and accounted for 70pc of all marriages, while the least popular was Sunday.
The single busiest day for weddings in 2011 was Saturday July 30 when 263 weddings were celebrated, or 1pc of the total for the year.
Responding to the new figures, the Catholic Iona Institute said Ireland's marriage rate had plummeted by more than 40pc since 1973 and is now just below the EU average.
"Irish people need to abandon the idea that the institution of marriage in this country is in good health. It isn't," argued David Quinn, director of the think-tank.
"Marriage is in sharp decline by every measure. We need to have a national debate about whether this matters and what, if anything, we are going to do about it."
He said the sharp decline in the marriage rate must be read in conjunction with the huge rise in cohabitation, the six-fold increase in divorce and separation since 1986 and the fact that over a third of children are now born outside of marriage.